ConstructionPro Week, Volume: 2 - Issue: 32 - 08/09/2013

Traditional Role of Design Professional Again in Question

By Bruce Jervis


Several weeks ago, we reported on a case in which a licensed professional engineer was sanctioned for acting as a general contractor without possessing the necessary state contractor license. It was ruled that the engineer’s role in the project exceeded the services “customarily furnished” by design professionals.


Now, in a recent case from Arizona, a licensed architect has turned the table and argued that American Institute of Architects Document B151, an owner-architect agreement, qualified as a “construction contract” for purposes of the benefits of the state Prompt Payment Act. The architect did not prevail in this quest.


These cases raise obvious questions: What is the customary role of the design professional? Is there such a thing these days? Changing methods of procurement and evolving contractual relationships are blurring the lines. Design professionals provide construction management services which resemble aspects of the role of the general contractor. Constructors contract to provide design services, subcontracting that function to licensed designers. Are statutes and licensing requirements keeping pace with current realities? I welcome your comments.



Any discernable likeness between a design professional today and one 20 years ago is purely coincidental.

Design professionals have been constantly shifting services that they provided for owners, over to GC's and CM's for the last 20 years, in order to lessen their own costs to provide those services.

Engineers no longer provide coordinated drawings, they just say that contractors have to provide them and shift any responsibility over to them to make sure that everything fits, while they squeeze space from needed areas like mechanical rooms and spaces so their design requirments for living space can be reached at a lesser cost per foot.

All these things that they are passing along, are in turn passed along to the GC or CM, who in their contracts, pass them along to their subcontractors.

The present chain of responsibility for anything that will save them costs is from architect to engineer, then from engineer to CM, then from CM to subcontractors. Finally, architects then create a whole new profession within their own businesses to make them money by hiring other architects to make sure the subs have done everything correctly, and they call it Commissioning.

The one thing that they have adhered to over the years is their ability to make sure that all the fecal matter associated with the design and engineering process, continues to be pitched downhill to others at a slope of 1/8" per foot.
Posted by: James Sheedy - Friday, August 09, 2013 11:03 AM

I have no interest in raising my liability profile or confusing emphasis of service by any implication that I am interested in establishing means,methods,and sequences of construction, hiring subs, purchasing and storing materials, or warranting a project. The rewards are not great enough absent a specific focus on construction contracting. I'm an architect, and am happy to leave it at that. Trying to make a B-151 serve as a catch-all contract is utter folly in my view. We cannot be all things to all people, and it is hubris to believe one can.
Posted by: Gary R. Collins, AIA - Friday, August 09, 2013 3:51 PM

1/8" per foot! Now you have touched a nerve.

This is all being brought on in the name of "Risk alocation/management". Insurance carriers have always attempted to transfer responsibility away fro their policyholders in the same way that CM became GC's answers to more profit with less risk incurred by transferring it to owners.

Yes JS, costs have risen due to the ever increasing complexity of our projects but this ignores a backward thinking construction industry who is not incorporating "smarter" systems for product development and installation.

It is a "perfect storm" of ever increasingly complex systems being installed by a declining pool of experienced workers vs a demand generated by our aging infrastructure and obselesence of many existing structures due to changing workplace requirements.

Unfortunately this was and is forseeable.

Licensed professionals (many CMs are not) are not standing up to licensing boards to complain about this critical shift that is occurring.
Posted by: Early Boomer - Friday, August 09, 2013 4:03 PM


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